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Sun 1 Apr 2007 02:08 PM

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Go with the flow

Water is fast becoming the world’s most precious commodity, with the UAE alone is expected to consume 600 million gallons a day in 2015. Adam Dawson looks at what is being done to conserve this resource and how FMs can play their part.

The world is facing a water shortage and the Middle East in particular with its dry climate is set to suffer if nothing is done. Residential housing, commercial centers and industry all use huge amounts of water needlessly. FMs can have a positive impact on this while helping to save the environment and a company's wallet too.

The UN has stated that it won't be long before a third of the world's population is living in an area experiencing some form of water shortage.

Unsurprisingly the Middle East is included in that area and the construction boom that is taking place in the region is using even more of this precious resource.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) expect water demand in the Emirate to reach 1290 million litres a day by 2011 and the fact that global warming will result in an increase in temperatures is only going to compound the problem.

It has been estimated that Arab states will need to invest US $100 billion (AED367 billion) on desalination over the next decade if demand for water keeps growing at the current pace. The increasing annual average of 6%, double the global average, is due to the surging population and large-scale economic diversification.

Desalination has so far been the salvation of the Middle East. Of all the world's desalination plants, 60% of them are based in the region and in the UAE alone desalination comprises 80% of the country's water supply. The rest comes from ground water, which is rapidly running out.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accounts for 30% of the world's total desalinated water production pumping out 2270 million litres a day. "So far desalination is working," says Husham Ahmed, chief engineer, Dubai Municipality (DM). "The problem with the process is that it is very expensive and uses huge amounts of energy and so it isn't environmentally friendly. The problem we have is we have to use it because the UAE is one of the top three largest consumers of water per capita in the world."

An increase in the amount of water being used in Dubai is coupled with an increase in the amount of sewage being produced, which has gone up from 25,000m³ a day in 1981 to 400,000m³ a day in 2007. "The problem is, what can we do with the sewage?" adds Ahmed.

"At present municipal waste is taken to the sewage treatment plant in Warsan where it is treated and 50% of it redistributed as irrigation. The other 50% is put back into the water table through water injection. But so much of the water being produced through desalination is being wasted and the DM has started to encourage large commercial or industrial projects to look at recycling their waste water on site and using it again for things like irrigation, landscaping and toilet flushing."

Doing this would mean recycling sewage or grey water (water left over from washbasins and showers) in small sewage treatment plants on site, cutting down on the amount of desalinated water being used for things other than drinking and bathing. FMs should be aware that this is not only a resource saving option but one that saves a lot of money as well.

Metito is a company that has taken advantage of the water shortage and this new talk of localised recycling units. Critical water shortages in Sharjah last year have led to new regulations concerning the type of water that is used."All buildings whether residential blocks, labour camps or commercial centres must have their own grey water recycling plants for toilet flushing and irrigation," says Metito customer service manager Ahmed Hayajneh. "It would be very sensible if Dubai was to follow suit, but I don't think it will in the short term because of all the construction that is taking place."

Global Engineering Solutions is a smaller company that is also supplying small sewage and wastewater treatment plants for use in beach resorts, labour camps commercial centers and residential areas. "We have both sewage treatment plants and grey water plants," says Sanjay Parekh, sales and marketing manager. "And we can build them to the customer's desired specifications in terms of the quality of the treated water, the size of the plant, whether it's above or below ground and other factors like these."

The company uses moving bed biofi reactors (MBBR), low sludge production (LSP), biofilm activated sludge and hybrid biofilm activated sludge technologies. The water treated in these plants is odour and pathogen-free and can be used in cooling towers, toilet flushing, irrigation, car washing, construction and other applications.

"The design of these sewage treatment plants means they are half the size of conventional sewage treatment plants," adds Parekh. "As a result the power usage is around half the amount. There is also the added plus that you can increase the capacity of the plant by 15-20% if you need to with very little added hassle."

The company also produces water restrictors that restrict the flow of water out of taps. "You get the same amount of pressure coming out your tap but the amount of water is much less than normal. They are a simple device to cut down on the amount of water you use," stresses Parekh.

This is a primary example of products that FMs should be looking at when thinking of reducing the amount of water that a building uses.

Serco is a FM company that has been using the water restrictors very successfully. "We always look for ways to save money when we take on contracts with different companies," says environmental health and safety manager Melissa Ashwell. "Saving on the DEWA bill is perhaps the easiest way to do this. We fit water restrictors on taps and put water bags into toilets so that they don't use so much water when you flush them. We have been following this in our own offices and have seen a reduction in the amount of water we use by up to 25%." FMs should also take notice not to water plants after 8am or before 6pm to make sure water isn't lost through evaporation and never use a hose for cleaning pavements outside.

But more needs to be done in the form of regulations from the government if water is to be saved. "There needs to be more pressure from the Government to force companies to use less water and to start to recycle their own wastewater," says Mohammad Hammoud, head of environmental engineering solutions, Al Serkal Group.

"In Singapore they have strict regulations on how much water they consume. They are even going as far as to drink wastewater which has been purified." In fact the water that is produced in Singapore exceeds the requirements set by the World Health Organisation and is cleaner than other sources of Singapore's water.

Al Serkal and Dubai Municipality are in the process of building a new waste treatment plant in Al Aweer that will be in the unique position of being able to separate oil and grease. "This type of waste posses a threat to the environment so it is good that we can treat it and recycle it," adds Hammoud. "The oil can be recycled into candles and other things, whereas the sludge goes to make fertiliser and the water is sold to industry and used for irrigation. Everything in this plant will be sold and reused."

Treated wastewater for use in industry is a topic that is causing a stir within the Middle East. The huge increase in business within the region is in part to blame for the consumption of water, so the use of recycled water for industrial procedures is being looked at with interest. There is particular interest within the district cooling sector which uses a huge amount of water.

Concorde-Corodex is a company that is using the new technology of membrane bio-reactors to allow domestic sewage to be treated and safely used for industrial application at their two plants in International City and on the Palm. "The water that comes out is of a pure enough form that it can be used for restricted irrigation for landscaping," says Mohanned Awad, marketing manager, Concorde-Corodex.

"You can use this water for other things such as crop growing, fountains, toilets and for washing your car, but it has to be used in conjunction with reverse osmosis technology." The resultant effluent is of such a high level that district cooling companies are looking into the technology. "Emicool have expressed some interest," adds Awad. "They want us to provide them with the water as well as recycling 80-85% of their blow down water. This would not only save them large amounts of money but would also cut down on the waste they produce." At the time of print Concorde-Corodex had supplied Emicool with a pilot plant and were awaiting the results of a six week trial.

The Middle East is slowly moving in the right direction with regards to wastewater treatment and recycling. It has come to the stage where desalinated water should not have to be relied upon for non-potable applications and FMs should play their part to make sure that this happens.

How FMs can save water

• Check water leakages in buildings regularly - this can be done automatically with the use of technology

• Place water bags in flush tanks of toilets

• Fix water restrictors onto all taps and shower heads

• Water plants before 8am or after 6pm to avoid water loss through evaporation

• Grow plants that do not need much water

• Avoid using potable water for cleaning or irrigation

• Use a wiper instead of a water hose for cleaning pavements

• Use modern irrigation techniques like drippers or sprinklers - technology can help automate this process

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